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IGCSE and GCSE - What is the difference?

(47 Posts)
Lollybrolly Sun 27-Jan-13 14:52:08

DDs school say they do IGCSE in a majority of subjects and they are selling this as an advantage. We have a meeting about course options in a few weeks so would like to have a basic understanding. So far I know they do IGCSE in science.

I know little about GCSE other than I was the 1st year to do it back in 1986.

Can anyone explain simply what the difference is and if there are any advantages/disadvantages please.

iknowmystuff Sat 12-Mar-16 17:56:24

just to give some real answers, igcse is harder than gcse. I am a british resident and moved a few years back to the middle east, to continue the rest of my high school, where I took igcse's. my cousins and friends back in England took gcse so I know what both are like. honestly, a B in igcse is equivalent to an a in gcse. if an international student got a/b in igcse, they would get a* in all gcse. this is also why a-levels seem harder for gcse ssudents than igcse beasue the jump is much larger from gcse to a level than igcse to a level. igcse is harder because they learn extra stuff and in more detail, this is why in a levels it seems easier because they have learnt the basics of it before in gcse. Also, when I moved there, I was failing because everyone learnt things I had never even heard about beacuase they are taught it in earlier years. for example, the stuff uk students learn in grade 9 is what international students learn in grade 7. I hope someone learnt something from this, seeing as a lot of other people who have no experience seem to be spouting nonsense. thank you smile.

Erebus Tue 01-Oct-13 14:16:53

Yes, mummytime- no system is ideal- and, tbh, I don't think either can really test a DC's subject knowledge thoroughly or fairly, can it? For all types of learners?

And you can get through life successfully and happily having never had to put yourself under the stress of formal exams again, can't you, so having the personality type that thrives on stress and last minute all-nighters shouldn't always be a prereq. to 'getting ahead. I need to know quite a lot of physics, tech and anatomy for my job but I can't say I need to trawl that knowledge up under high-stress or snap-judgement circumstances at all whilst working, but that's how my 'subject knowledge' was tested originally!

I'm not sure either of my DSs will favour the 'one-exam or bust' of the new GCSE over modularity, but I think DS2 in particular would do better on 'straight question/straight answer' style exams of the IGCSE variety.

mummytime Tue 01-Oct-13 12:30:55

Erebus- that comment is fair enough unless like me, you have a DD who is 14, has low self-esteem and gets very nervous with exams. I actually feel like crying to be honest.

Of course Mr Gove is not in this position, and his children aren't old enough to be the ones suffering yet.

Erebus Tue 01-Oct-13 11:26:05

I am, however, waiting to see what happens to girls' results once the new-style just-like-IGCSEs exams are bedded in.

Watch them tumble.

I, personally, am not averse to the concept of 'learning a given topic area within a subject'- like, I don't know, maybe 'electricity' in Physics, or 'Jane Eyre' in Eng Lit, then testing it; then moving on, versus doing Electricity, energy transfer, atomic decay in Physics, or Jane Eyre, Hamlet and war poetry in English then testing the lot in a couple of 1.5 hour papers.

Whilst it's taken as a given that the latter method ensures 'deep learning' has taken place, in my instance as an elderly 'O' level taker, it ensures deep last minute cramming took place! I could no more reconcile a circuit diagram or explain the role of pathos in King Lear now than, well, a modular GCSE taker could!

I agree entirely that the modular system can be and was abused (and anyone who's ever glanced at a League Table bears some responsibility for that!); modules could be re-sat and re-sat till the 'right' mark was obtained, I still think some subject areas lend themselves to a more modular approach; that modular doesn't always mean 'easier' (see how boys results fell once the modular system came in, they who tend to cram at the end rather than produce good, consistent results all the way along).

And, fwiw, when it comes down to it, few give a pygmies whether one's DC's school went 'off piste' with a subject, an idea imho best suited to the very clever, not the mainstream, anyway!- what people look at is the mark on the bit of paper, and if straight forward, simple English 'solve these equations' style questions gives my DS an B in maths, rather than the C or D he might get if he hasn't seen the link between the red lollipop and the interest rate (see above for my facetious example of a IGCSE question versus a GCSE question!), I'm all for the IGCSE, thanks, as it increases my DS's chances of doing better overall.

An aside, maybe the GCSE 'contorted English maths question' actually does better prepare a DC for The Real World rather than the IGCSE abstract of say 'pure' quadratic equations??

And no, I therefore don't necessarily buy into the 'academic rigour' argument.

friday16 Tue 01-Oct-13 10:13:28

3 is an excellent reason. It is, however, interesting to watch teachers attempting the following syllogism:

1. The iGCSE is more like the old O Level, being almost entirely about terminal exams.

2. We teach the iGCSE, because we find that it is better to be able to teach a two-year course without interruptions for assessment every five minutes as happens with the GCSE.

3. Gove wants to make the current GCSE system more like O Levels, and therefore more like iGCSEs, thus bringing the GCSE into line with the syllabus and assessment method we believe to be better. This will result in a single nationally recognised exam system which is much more to our liking (see points 1 and 2).

4. Conclusion: Gove is a twunt who is wrong about everything.

wordfactory Tue 01-Oct-13 10:09:12

Oh and

4. The governement couldn't keep bloody interfering!

wordfactory Tue 01-Oct-13 10:08:10

DS school do all iGCSEs.

There are a number of reasons.

1. These were considered more rigorous when normal GCSEs could be taken and re-taken in modules (redundnat now of course).

2. Being an all boys school, terminal exams were felt to be a better fit for most of the cohort.

3. The teachers prefered not to interupted by assessments and modules. It meant they could ski off piste more easily and take the boys away from the syllabus where relevant.

friday16 Mon 30-Sep-13 20:48:25

I got the impression that IGCSEs were favoured because they are more easily recognised abroad and increasingly pupils are looking to study in US. Is there anything in this, or did I misunderstand?

The iGCSE is no more "international" in recognition than any other GCSE. In the specific case of the US, they don't have a national system of exams at 16b and therefore GCSEs, of any stripe, are not a huge deal in a US application (a good SAT is much more important).

The iGCSE designed to be taken internationally, and its main historic market was for people in foreign and international schools who were intending to apply to UK universities, who do care about GCSE results, than vice versa. The idea that an exam set by a UK exam board is somehow "more easily recognised" than another exam set by a UK exam board just because they put the word "international" in the title is more evidence of the fantastic marketing that's gone on.

EndoplasmicReticulum Mon 30-Sep-13 20:15:18

I teach IGCSE Biology and we do cover brewing beer. We don't actually make any, theory only.

My school swapped a few years back when the AQA GCSE got really dumbed down. IGCSE has no coursework element, those skills are tested by questions in the exam papers.

It has proper Biology in it, lots of eyes, kidneys, etc. - which had disappeared from GCSE unless you did triple.

I think it's a better preparation for those who go on to science A levels.

Also agree with Erebus about the style of questions.

racingheart Mon 30-Sep-13 19:54:21

Thanks for starting this thread - I'd always wondered.

I got the impression that IGCSEs were favoured because they are more easily recognised abroad and increasingly pupils are looking to study in US. Is there anything in this, or did I misunderstand?

Erebus Mon 30-Sep-13 19:42:38

There'a chance DS2 will be able to do IGCSE maths rather than GCSE. The school see this as A Good Thing, because the questions appear to be straight forward, not interpretive. DS2 is a very literal chap with an average grasp of the intricacies of the English language (i.e. the sort of person IGCSEs were designed for). He is also no maths whizz.

An off the cuff, tongue in cheek example might be:

Here are some algebraic formulae. Here are some mathematical questions. Use the formulae to answer them...


Here are some algebraic formulae.
Q1: Imran has borrowed 15 euros at an exchange rate of x, which has now crept to y. Susan has a red lollipop. How much does Joshua now owe Imran?


I know which style DS2 will be able to answer best!

mercibucket Mon 30-Sep-13 09:35:58

back in the day, our grammars chose the hardest exam boards, not the easiest

i can still see it being that way with super selectives. they re going to get a's anyway.

igcse cant be manipulated at will by govt, that is a big advantage these days

Picturesinthefirelight Mon 30-Sep-13 09:30:29

On the contrary with regards to the league tables.

When dcs school began doing igcse they went from the top to the bottom of the league tables as at the time they weren't recognised.

The school doesn't seem at all concerned with gcsecrexyltsxto few honest. All publicity etc tends to be about a level results and everything us geared towards getting good a level results. Gcses are seen as mere preparation in some ways.

poppydoppy Mon 30-Sep-13 09:17:59

With the recent changes to GCSEs I dont think there is any real difference between IGCSEs and GCSE now.

The top indies have to offer IGCSEs and IB as most have a big international student body.

bevelino Sun 29-Sep-13 23:45:21

I meant to add dd3's syllabus in line 4 of my earlier post....damned ipad!

bevelino Sun 29-Sep-13 23:42:50

I have triplets attending different schools and two are taking IGCSE's and one who will be taking a mixture of IGCSE's and GCSE's. The differences are subtle and subjective. For example languages at IGCSE appear more rigorous and dd's 1and 2 studying IGCSE find them fairly challenging whereas dd's syllabus is straightforward and she will be permitted to take a list of words and phrases into the exam, which is not allowed for IGCSE. Maths is also different but the standard is about the same. English and drama IGCSE appears harder because the texts studied are all fairly turgid classics, whereas the GCSE books are a lot easier, but that is not to say the exam will be any easier.

My dd's are identical and dd 3 would have no difficulty with studying the IGCSE and vice versa. As other posters have remarked universities are not going to concern themselves as to whether a child has taken either exam and it is the A'levels which will be the main focus. I hope this helps.

ChristineS Sun 29-Sep-13 02:44:31

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

Phineyj Wed 06-Feb-13 16:53:55

gelo I don't think I am naive...The content of the I-GCSE in the subject I teach certainly prepares students well for sixth form and acts as a good taster of the subject. Believe it or not we are actually as interested in academic challenge as grades, as we're hardly short of students and they nearly all get As anyway...obviously your mileage may vary...

mumzy Sun 03-Feb-13 11:08:34

igcses pass marks can't be interfered with by governments as the exams are independent. So an A grade igcse obtained in Singapore will be equivalent to one in London. This is important when we saw last year The government involved in changing gcses pass marks and the welsh assembly actually ordered gcses papers to be upgraded. In an increasingly global job market, exams which are internationally respected such as igcses and IB will have more kudos.

alanyoung Sat 02-Feb-13 10:30:47

There has been a lot of hype that headteachers in public schools are opting for the IGCE because it is more challenging and more suited to those students who want to go on and study A Level Maths, but I have purchased an IGCSE book this week and comparing it with the GCSE syllabus, I can't see much difference at all!

Sure, there is some calculus included, but it's only an introduction. Any good A level student will be able to cover this in a few lessons at the beginning of their course and I don't think the 3D trigonometry/Pythagoras problems are quite as difficult (certainly no more difficult) as the GCSE.

Having taught maths for over thirty years, I can't see that there is any advantage to taking the IGCSE, except that it seems to be acquiring a reputation for being superior. Is that deserved? I think not.

DayToDayShit Thu 31-Jan-13 14:15:01

I believe that is the Edexcel English IGCSE morethan . One can either choose to do a coursework/controlled assessment type one or choose the 'all exam version.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 30-Jan-13 16:13:12

There is an English IGCSE without controlled assessment or coursework, I can't remember which board though as dd only 9 so not quite applicable yet. I'm pretty sure it was Literature though and not language.
I think they are a fantastic idea for families and schools who need or want a different approach to learning. From the little research I have done they are certainly not easier to pass than GCSE. Although I couldn't comment on a particular subject.

Glup Tue 29-Jan-13 23:15:10

Meh, there's very little between them. I've recently compared the different English syllabi in detail and have decided that the Cambridge IGCSE is considerably easier than AQA GCSE.......from a logistical perspective.

The IGCSE Language paper course requires no controlled assessments, which makes it loads easier to administer. Looking at the exam papers and assessment criteria, however, I would say that they are almost identical.

The main difference (and one that some parents would like), is that the IGCSEs are very traditional- I say that from having taught in both British schools and International schools. Perhaps a little outdated, in my personal opinion.

Interestingly this summer, in my school, we shall be sitting both. Resit students will be sitting IGCSE (no time to do the controlled assessments) and normal students GCSE. Will let you know how it goes!

It is quite sweet that some parents think schools would deliberately offer students a qualification that was disadvantaging them by making it harder for them to attain high grades. No future career will ever ask which exam board you did, or care about the difference between IGCSEs and GCSEs! Trust me, I've chosen the exam board in a couple of different schools. My criteria: the board that I thought would enable the most students to attain the highest possible grades.

happygardening Mon 28-Jan-13 19:39:00

OP you can look up at the exam syllabus on line my DS is doing the Cambridge IGCSE but I'm sure excell do the same thing. I've looked and I don't think calculus is on his syllabus (I don't actually know what it is it may have another mathematical name) he is doing calculus but that is because at his school they do the Pre U math and IGCSE math at the same time but I thought he said it was not on the IGCSE papers.
I am reliably informed that with the right teacher even those like myself with limited numerical skills can learn to do quite complex math?!

solidfoundation Mon 28-Jan-13 18:49:15

Thanks, Gelo, for filling me in re the calculus.

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